I’ve been trying to implement the principles of minimalism for a couple of years now, so how come I still own things? Am I not a true minimalist?

Minimalism is not about how many things you own, it’s about owning just enough for you. It’s a balance that I’m continuously trying to get right, right for both my lifestyle and the other principles that I try to live by. Minimalism does not perfectly overlap with these other values, and I constantly need to evaluate my decisions to figure out which one wins out.

Minimalism and frugality

You might think that not buying as many things goes hand in hand with frugality. When I first started my minimalism journey, this was the case. I stopped shopping for entertainment, stopped buying unnecessary things and I saved money. But when it came to things I actually needed, or things that I valued, sometimes the decision was to buy something that cost more but that could provide more value. This might have been something that was better quality and would therefore last longer (so frugal in the longer term), something that could perform multiple functions like a coat that could be worn for every occasion (probably frugal), or something that I know I will use and get enjoyment from (maybe frugal, if I actually do end up using it as much as I think).

Frugality is not the same as being cheap, so seems like most of these decisions still align. But in the pursuit of minimalism, I was also lured into the trap of finding ‘perfect’ items. If I could only own one handbag, it would have to be the perfect handbag. I’d buy one, but then see another that was better and buy that. I’d get rid of of the old one, so still be sticking to minimalism, but it’s not exactly a frugal cycle.

There’s also a certain cost to not owning things. It might be more expensive to rent items, or you might get rid of some of those handy ‘just in case’ items that you then end up needing to buy again. I’ve weighed up this cost in dollar terms, and decided that it’s worth it to me to recover the mental cost that it takes to own this kind of thing outright.

Minimalism and sustainability

Choosing to remove myself from the perpetual cycle of creating new products and then disposing of them definitely feels like it aligns with my eco values. I’ve also become much more aware of the environmental impact of the products I do buy, and choose to spend more on items that align better with my values.

So minimalism is great in the long term for the planet. But getting to minimalism in the first place might not be so ecological.

When I first read about minimalism, I was excited to purge my life of things that no longer held value. It was tempting to whirl round the house, dumping things into the trash or even worse, dumping them at the nearest charity shop. Instead, I tried to take a slower approach so that I could get rid of things more thoughtfully. I made great use of my local Buy Nothing Facebook group, sorted and properly cleaned items that could be resold before donating them, and recycling things that weren’t of any use to anyone.

My concerns for the environment have sometimes made it difficult to get rid of things, but I know that even things that have gone to landfill would have always ended up going there. I’m not saving the planet by keeping trash in my house, I’m saving the planet by not buying that trash in the first place.

Minimalism and organization

Becoming more minimalist makes it easier to be more organized. There’s less stuff to clean and tidy, things stay more ordered and there’s more time to get on top of more important life admin. As a naturally ‘type A’ person, I find it easier to make decisions about items – I am more likely to use hard logic to override sentimental feelings about an object, and I’m good at making sure I actually deal with items (donate or fix them). When I did my first declutter, I systematically went through the whole house, and I’ve organized myself to do a regular purge twice per year.

But the reverse is not always true – being organized does not always make it easier to be a minimalist. If all your drawers and cupboards are kept neat and tidy, you know where everything is an everything has a place, it can be hard to see the need to get rid of things. Who cares if you have twelve staplers if they’re all lined up neatly? There’s also an element of wanting to have certain items on hand to be prepared, to be more organized.

I just have to be realistic, and brutally honest with myself about the likelihood of needing things. I’ve also learnt to accept a certain level of risk that I won’t have something that I need in the future, and worse case scenario I’ll need to go out and buy it.

Finally, I’ve had to fight my desire to feel organized, to feel like my minimalist journey is complete, and not get obsessed with slimming down my possessions. If I can make instant decisions that’s great, but I’ve had to learn not to constantly inventory my life in the pursuit of the optimum level of minimalism.

How has minimalism aligned, or not aligned, with your other values?